#1What is Kabbalah?
The term “Kabbalah” is widely known to the public, but it is also widely misunderstood. Kabbalah or parts of it have been integrated with the “New Age” philosophy, occultism, and other esoteric systems. What most people don’t know is that Kabbalah in its pure form is a discipline as old as Judaism itself. Initially, it was the sole property of the priestly caste that decided it was too esoteric and complex for the general population. Kabbalah means "tradition." Kabbalah was essentially lost after the Destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE. The rabbis inherited the mantle of teaching, Torah interpretation, and legal decision making while a few Jewish Mystics preserved Kabbalah as a secret doctrine. The Hasidic movement made Kabbalah a public property and gave us its current form. The Hasid’s unlike the priestly caste introduced Kabbalah to the general Jewish population. Fortunately, if not for them and the earlier Mystics we would not have known of the “Secret Doctrine of the Son” known and taught within the priestly caste preserved by the Jewish Mystics and later appropriated by the Christian movement. This teaching informed the doctrine of the Incarnation of Christ with some Christian modifications. So, we can see that the Incarnation is not a precept foreign to Judaism and may in the future play an important part in uniting Judah, Israel and her companions under the Kippur (covering) of the blood of Yahshua.
The foundation of Kabbalah is the Torah. Without this foundation Kabbalah is just another teaching without substance. What we see promoted, as Kabbalah today is nowhere near the real thing. People who have been exploited by this pseudo Kabbalah have received not Kabbalah but pop psychology and in the popular genre of self-help craze teachings that pretend to have some connection to Kabbalah. Kabbalah principally is Jewish mysticism. People who are fooled by this false presentation of Kabbalah cannot be totally blamed because in most disciplines, you expect to learn and comprehend something after studying it. But Kabbalah is mysticism, and when it comes to mysticism, people expect to be mystified by esoteric applications. Humans are willing to accept incomprehensible mumbo-jumbo when practiced under the label of mysticism, which leaves the discipline open to all kind of charlatans. So, if you start from the premise that Kabbalah is supposed to be mysterious, enigmatic and incomprehensible then you have set yourself up for accepting the false. It’s mysticism after all! The American College Dictionary defines mysticism as "the doctrine of an immediate spiritual intuition of truths believed to transcend ordinary understanding, or of a direct, intimate union of the would with the Divinity through contemplation and love." The complete union of the soul with G-d is the target of mysticism.
So much inanity is presented in the name of Kabbalah, it is important to educate believers in some basic understandings. That is why this study was initiated, to equip you with the information that gives you the ability to discern the real from the false.
With the Torah as it’s guide, Kabbalah has flourished albeit sometimes darkly and sometimes brilliantly for over five thousand years. When you become learned in this subject you will see Kabbalah manifested in the theology of Christianity as well as in the everyday life of Judaism. So incorporated is Kabbalah into these systems that it has gone unnoticed. As to Judaism Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, a contemporary noted Jewish writer and thinker, said of Kabbalah that it is, "the official theology of the Jewish people." Kabbalah is the first attempt by Jewish writers to define and describe G-d, which is the primary work of theology. Steinsaltz’s assessment is certainly correct in this light. Within Christianity the process of discovery is less obvious on the surface.
In order to understand what Kabbalah is and what it isn’t we must recognize that Kabbalah is to Torah what philosophy is to science. Torah is G-d’s Word delivered to us in two forms the Written and the Living. We can see the results of living Torah. It is experiential in that aspect. It is quantifiable and can be rationally perceived. Kabbalah like philosophy to science addresses Torah giving us a greater abstract construct that should convey a greater understanding. Kabbalah then strives to overcome the usual boundaries between the individual and the Absolute and that is the great mystical achievement.
Actual reality is beyond the finite senses of a human being and it is here that Kabbalah tries to construct a system to give us an understanding of the Greater Reality, G-d. Science that addresses observable phenomena may draw conclusions from the data. The scientist ponders this data and constructs a theory of what the entire system might be like based on empirical evidence. Kabbalah essentially functions in the same sense.
There are some things that are nearly impossible to convey with useful definitions however intelligently chosen. For example describe to yourself the color orange, or what an apple tastes like, or the smell of a fragrant flower. You are confronted with the limitations of human language for no matter how talented you are you cannot convey the sense adequately. Now, consider how much more difficult is it to describe the ineffable, the infinite, The Eternal, The Absolute. Because of human limitations many have thrown up their hands in defeat and admonish us that we only know what we experience. Others have taken a different track and have chosen to define G-d by negatives. G-d is not…. Accurate, but not very fulfilling.
Into this gap Kabbalah has moved. Mysticism transcends the intellect, and hinges on the idea that G-d is immanent, inherently present. In its pure form Kabbalah recognizes that G-d is within us not unlike the Christian doctrine of the indwelling spirit. In less coherent forms it leads to pantheism. Gershom Scholem, the great contemporary scholar of mysticism wrote, "There is no mysticism as such, there is only mysticism of a particular religious system." So we see that although the goals may be the same the methods differ from belief system to belief system.
The principal tool of the Jewish mystic is the Torah, the Revealed Word of the Holy One. Like science, the Torah gives us facts that are fully perceived sensually and rationally quantifiable. Like philosophy, Kabbalah gives us the grander abstract picture that the facts present.
Kabbalah, the Jewish mystical tradition is customarily believed to have arisen during the twelfth century C.E., but in fact disciplined meditation on the Throne of G-d reaches far back into the prophetic period. As we explore the depths of Kaballah we will learn of the" Secret Doctrine of the Son," which with some variations is roughly the Christian Doctrine of the Trinity. This priestly doctrine was carried forth within the tradition of Kabbalah and exists in the Hasidic tradition today. The mystical tradition was clearly evident in the second temple period reposing in the hands of the Priestly caste as I previously taught you. However, we will see in that it is evident even in Israel’s prophetic period for we will examine Ezekiel a prophet/ priest whose vision may be the foundation for all subsequent traditions.
The first written reference to Kabbalah is found in the Talmud written in the fifth century to refer to the private instruction rabbis gave to their disciples. The term derives from the word qabal, meaning, "to grasp." Kabbalah on the other hand means" tradition." The Mishnah denotes a rabbi’s public teaching, which a disciple learns in order to pass it on while kabbalah was taught to only a selected few on a one to one basis and was not for general dissemination.
It might be instructive to note the rabbi’s qualifications for teaching a prospective student Kabalistic art of hitbodedut, or meditation. This is a thirteenth-century aggadah (story). The prospective student was asked, "Are you in a condition of perfect equilibrium?" The prospective student who had prayed religiously and practiced good deeds replied, "I think so." The rabbi asked, "When someone insults you, do you feel injured? When you receive praise, does you heart expand with pleasure?" The perspective student thought for a moment and replied sheepishly: "Yes, I suppose I do feel hurt when insulated and proud when praised." The rabbi then replied, "Go out and practice detachment from worldly pain and pleasure for a few more years. Then come back and I will teach you how to meditate."
The moral here is that to receive the teachings of Kabbalah one must first be prepared. This student did not go off and live as a hermit as some might suppose to achieve the degree of self-nullification needed to benefit from Kabbalah because traditional Judaism was and is all that is needed to guide one toward egolessness. The prayer over the morning meal reminds him or her of the divine ground upon which his/her sustenance rests. We can lose our feeling of self-importance in observing the miracles found in ordinary acts like, breathing, eating, sleeping, or in earning our livelihood. If we focus our minds properly in the middle of daily mundane matters we can prepare ourselves for enlightenment by climbing a spiritual ladder that although anchored in the earth will eventually lead to G-d’s throne itself in this time and now. This is the state where we actually experience a state of "Awe" in the presence of the Almighty. Awe will eventually turn to love and love to cleaving. Deuteronomy informs us that we are to Love the Lord thy G-d…hearken to His voice, and…cleave unto Him; for that is thy life and the length of thy days. These passages have been taken literally by Jewish mystics from biblical times onward. From this perspective much of the Bible can be read as an instructive manual that guides us through withdrawal from sensory attachments (Ecclesiastes); that confronts the heights and valley of spiritual struggles (Psalms); and depicts the union of the soul with its creator (songs of Songs).
Now this does not allow for the mystic to isolate himself from his fellows because for the Jew, community and religious observance is one as taught in the Torah. This concept is reinforced by the divine revelation at Sinai and by Yahshua that appeared not to one man but to a community numbering innumerable souls.
The mystical tradition was practiced in secret until the 18th century when it emerged as European Hasidim. Within the Hasidic movement the mystical tradition known as kabbalah, which all mystical tradition falls within has remained communal. Persecution has imbued it with hopes for the messianic redemption, preparing a whole segment of the Jewish populace for the return of Yahshua. The emphasis on mystical practice is for each soul to concentrate on G-d in each of his everyday daily acts, with each breath, but yet he must come down form this "high place" and live among people as well. By cleaving (yoking) himself to G-d he/she develops a power of love so great that he brings G-dly influx into the daily lives of an imperfect world of men.
Kabbalah is intimately rooted in Torah and without understanding its foundation, Torah; it would be like trying to fly without wings